The public can tour Seattle’s new First Hill streetcars Thursday during a walk-through and safety event midday Thursday — a sign they’re almost ready to ride.
No start date has been announced for Seattle’s long-delayed First Hill streetcar, but city transportation managers will let people tour the trains for a safety event Thursday, a sign the 2.5-mile line may open soon.
The colorful trolleys are about to make practice trips on their normal schedule — without passengers — running as often as every 10 minutes, to complete the last phase of preparations, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
Voters approved the $134 million line in the 2008 Sound Transit 2 sales-tax measure. Service was supposed to begin in early 2014, connecting next year’s Capitol Hill light-rail station to the existing International District/Chinatown Station and Pioneer Square.
But train assembly was delayed by challenges to install the unusual electric propulsion systems, along with an order backlog at Inekon, the Czech-based manufacturer. The First Hill streetcars can retract the overhead power poles and go off-wire using stored battery power, especially downhill, heading south.
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SDOT director Scott Kubly said early this year the city was aiming to start service by late summer. Since then, SDOT has blamed problems with the propulsion software that controls the flow of power to the axles. Inekon is liable for $1.3 million in delays, which the city intends to subtract from contract payments, SDOT said this week.
Each train is now completing a 310-mile road test to check reliability before the five-train network simulation later this month.
Trains will be displayed f11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, at the north terminus along Broadway at Denny Way; midroute on 14th Avenue at South Washington Street; and the Pioneer Square stop, South Jackson Street at Occidental Avenue South.
Safety advice includes:
- Look before crossing tracks, as the trains are quiet. Sometimes, there will be bells or horns.
- Drivers should prepare to stop behind trains in mixed-traffic lanes.
- Bicyclists should cross tracks at a right angle, to avoid having tires catch in the grooves, causing a fall. At least a dozen bicyclists were injured this way before the South Lake Union line opened in late 2007.
- Keep the trackway clear. Trains cannot swerve around obstacles.
- Streetcars have their own signals in places, and sometimes cross a street when other vehicles don’t.
- There are no fences to keep people, bikes and cars separate from the trolleys.
The SLU streetcars have never been involved in an injury crash during their eight-year history, said Marybeth Turner, SDOT spokeswoman. There were six minor collisions in 2014, typically fender-benders.
In a new development, testing shows the First Hill streetcars run farther than expected off-wire, including some uphill, northbound travel. A brief downhill stretch near Madison Street lets the regenerative brakes (like a hybrid car) gather enough power to continue northbound — which means the streetcar has more chances to retract its rooftop pantograph and avoid conflicts with the Metro trolley bus wires that cross major intersections like spiderwebs.
“Battery drive allows a smoother, faster crossing of intersections that have trolley bus overhead crossings,” Ethan Melone, the city’s streetcar-project manager, said by email Wednesday.
The streetcars are projected to carry more than 3,000 riders a day, because of the busy route serving Seattle Central College, Seattle University, Swedish Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center and high-rise apartments.
On the other hand, nearly the whole trackway mixes with general traffic, so trains will be no faster than a trolley bus, and they could slow to walking speed in severe gridlock.